MLB threatens to pull plug on Caribbean Series over Cuba

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CUBA STANDARD — A Major League Baseball official told the Latin American organizers of the Caribbean Series that it will not cooperate with the 2014 tournament if a Cuban club team is included, Dominican daily Diario Libre reported.

MLB’s consent is apparently crucial since most of the Mexican, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican and Dominican club team players participating in the winter tournament play with MLB teams during regular season. Eighty-seven percent of the players for the Dominican team participating in the Caribbean Series are under contract with an MLB team, according to Diario Libre.

In response, a Baseball Confederation of the Caribbean official said Aug. 6 that the organization is working to obtain a license from the U.S. government to include a Cuban club team in the 2014 Caribbean Series, scheduled for Feb. 1-7 on Margarita Island in Venezuela.

“The groundwork to include Cuba in the Caribbean Series is being done,” Confederation President Juan Francisco Puello Herrera told AP in a phone interview from New York on Tuesday. “That’s why we will talk to the U.S. government.”

In June, Puello and Higinio VĂ©lez, president of the Cuban Federation of Baseball,  jointly announced that Cuba will return to the annual club team tournament after a 53-year absence. At the time, Puello said he was working with the U.S. Department of State to make Cuba’s return possible.

“We don’t have approval from Major League Baseball for Cuba to participate in the Caribbean Series,” Puello said June 11. “But if Cuba can participate in the World Baseball Classic, we don’t see why they can’t be in the Caribbean Series,” Puello added, referring to the MLB national-team tournament that included Cuba five years ago.

The Caribbean Series news was reported on MLB’s official Website June 11. A little more than one month later, MLB responded with an ultimatum.

According to Diario Libre, which obtained a copy of the letter dated July 15, MLB Vice President of Operations Kim Ng wrote to Puello that MLB would grant the Confederation 24 hours to retract its agreement with Cuba. Otherwise, MLB will decline to sign its annual Caribbean Series agreement with the Confederation. U.S. sanctions, Ng said in the letter, require MLB to apply for licenses, and there is not enough time to do so before the tournament.

“MLB was surprised and extremely disappointed when it learned that the Confederation had decided, without consulting with MLB, to introduce an new Cuban team to its membership,” Ng wrote, according to Diario Libre. “With this letter, MLB asks the Confederation to immediately rescind the agreement with the Cuban Federation. Submit to MLB a written confirmation of such rescission, and announce it publicly,” the MLB official commanded.

If the Confederation fails to rescind by Aug. 15, MLB will be unable to sign the annual agreement with the Confederation over the 2014 tournament, Ng wrote.

It is not clear what would force MLB to obtain a license from the U.S. government for its players’ participation in games against a Cuban team. Mere participation in a multinational tournament does likely not involve restricted financial benefit to Cuba.

“Or is pitching/hitting/fielding against Cuban players an unauthorized export of services to those players, even if the games take place in a third country?”, a reader asked, tongue-in-cheek, in response to an entry in the Export Law Blog.

Neither MLB nor the Confederation responded to inquiries by Cuba Standard.

Marco González Jr., a Philadelphia-based attorney with Duane Morris, suggests in his blog that MLB fears prize moneys and TV rights paid to a Cuban team from entry fees paid by the Latin American teams fielding MLB players may violate Washington’s Cuban Asset Control Regulations (CACR).

“If indeed the problem is linked to the way the organizers manage the funding that supports the Series, and, if by including a Cuban team, funds from Cuba or U.S. sponsors are intermingled with funds from teams that include MLB players, then I can see how MLB felt a bit blind-sided by the organizers’ decision to include Cuba without first consulting with MLB,” González wrote. However, the Caribbean Series would fit perfectly current U.S. policy towards Cuba, he suggests. “The most recent revisions to the CACRs were done with the aim of promoting more contact between the people of the United States and Cuba. What better way to do that than to have MLB players from the United States participate in the winter Caribbean classic along with Cuban baseball players?”

Cuban officials have made no public statements regarding the conflict.

On. Aug. 15, official Website Cubadebate ran an opinion piece by Cuban baseball analyst Juan Antonio MartĂ­nez de Osaba, in which he pleads for “transparency in the analysis by the U.S. Major League Baseball organizations” in their conflict with the Baseball Confederation of the Caribbean. Apparently, a bone of contention has become whether Cuban teams qualify as “professional.” MartĂ­nez cited a Baseball Confederation of the Caribbean statute that says, “No league of any country can be represented in the organization, if its category is not professional.” Cuban teams are nominally amateur; however, their athletes dedicate an equal amount of time to practicing their sport than their professional peers.

MLB executive Ng

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